A new community-funded, barrier-free playground has risen at Connetquot Elementary, thanks to the diligent efforts of the Connetquot Playground Committee and a remarkable collective outpouring of generosity in the form of donations from residents. Unlike its predecessor, the new playground is fully accessible for handicapped students. The committee raised a total of $47,000, and because the playground was wholly funded through donations and not funded by the school district, the costs of purchase and installation do not impact the school budget or the district’s tax levy.
The playground’s story began several years ago, when a request for new swings by parents Monique Motto and Cindy Stauber led then-Principal Lisa Belz (now the head of Timber Point Elementary) to suggest a playground and form the Connetquot Playground Committee. Residents Rob and Eleen Kazcinsky, integral members of the playground committee, had previously brought to light the need for handicap-accessible structures in the community.
Fundraising began in February 2010, after a NYSIR (New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal) inspector’s report declared that the old playground at Connetquot had reached the end of its useable life.
In a related but separate fundraising effort, new swings (with a handicap-accessible swing) were installed in the spring of 2010, funded in part by family contributions as well as a $5,000 donation from the For the Kids Foundation (FTK) of East Islip.
With the new playground designed to be “inclusive” and handicapped-accessible, East Islip's SEPTA (Special Education Parent Teacher Association) was naturally involved, providing continuous support for the next phase of the project. SEPTA presented a $2,500 check last October and urged Connetquot community members to work together on the playground effort.
Dorothy Bauer, the grandmother of Connetquot fourth-grader Ryan Bauer, entered a Pathmark/Coca-Cola Sweepstakes contest asking participants to name a playground that was undergoing construction. Bauer mentioned Connetquot and won a $5,000 donation for the playground project, adding to substantial other direct donations such as $5,000 from the EJ Autism Foundation, $1,000 from Ray the Plumber of East Islip, $750 from Connetquot’s Class of 2010 and numerous other donations from local businesses such as ShopRite Supermarkets and the Shaolin Self Defense Center of East Islip. Community members, staff and students all participated in a tremendous variety of fundraising activities for the playground, such as a Box Top clipping, dinner at the Irish Coffee Pub, an adult night at Fatty McGee’s, water bottle recycling, a Valentine’s Day sale, car washes, an Applebee’s breakfast, plant and flower sales, a petting zoo, a bike raffle, yard sales and clothing drives.
The playground’s contractor, Tony Barbato of Holbrook-based Louis Barbato Landscaping, is an East Islip resident whose youngest son attended Connetquot Elementary School. Barbato donated a great deal of time to remove the old playground and install the new one. “I was so impressed with his commitment to the children of East Islip,” said Connetquot Principal Deborah Smith, whose tenure at the school has ensured the completion of the project.
Connetquot Playground Committee members noted that this is only the first part of the Connetquot playground project. “We are continuing to fundraise and donations are always welcome,” said one committee member. “We installed the new playground in a two-year time frame, so think of what we can do if more people are involved.”
A Connetquot playground dedication ceremony will be scheduled prior to the end of the 2011-2012 school year.